CALDWELL, NJ — Acting Business Administrator Thomas Banker presented a PowerPoint during Tuesday’s Caldwell Borough Council meeting in order to provide more detailed rationale and explanation as to why the administration is supporting a redevelopment plan for the business district along Bloomfield Avenue and a new parking garage for the borough. 

The administration began discussing options to revitalize the downtown corridor, increase tax revenues and address a deficiency of available parking spots beginning in February 2019.

Banker noted that municipal economics are contingent upon the ability to: increase the tax base, increase efficiencies, redistribute obligations, eliminate services or defer maintenance.

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He explained that the tax base in Caldwell has been relatively flat between 2008 and 2018, wherein the tax base for the community was $1,143,441,000 and increased to $1,160,886,000 by 2018—reflecting an increase of approximately $17 million over the 10-year period. Banker noted that this was “not a significant level of growth” and that the total tax levy to the municipality increased by $5.387 million during the same period.

Ways to increase the tax base that were referenced included:

  • New Construction on Available Land (extremely limited supply of land)
  • Rehabilitation of Substandard Buildings (proposed use of 5-year abatements to encourage investment)
  • Redevelopment of Existing Properties (highest potential for significant impact)
  • Increase Demand for Existing Properties (improve desirability of Caldwell to larger audience)

According to Banker, the municipality’s spending increased from $6.86 million to $7.923 million during the same time frame, with the tax rate increasing from 1.98 percent to 2.41 percent. Efficiency improvements during that time period included expanded use of shared services within the health department, borough clerk, purchasing agent and assessor as well as reductions in personnel.

Banker added that the administration recently sought more efficient ways to operate the infrastructure, legislating the billing requirements for not-for-profits for sewer usage and the intended goal of renegotiating contracts with the local municipalities who utilize the sewer treatment plant.

Of note were the pending COAH obligations within the communities and the impact it would have on the already maximized sewer and water systems.  Other infrastructure concerns were the need for more paving stating the town was now “playing catch up.”

“Decisions were made rather than to raise taxes; a short-term decision was to save money, which led to long-term problems,” said Banker.

Services that were eliminated or deferred maintenance, according to Banker, included:

  • Water Main Replacement
  • Sewer Main Replacement
  • Street Paving
  • Municipal Roof Replacement (borough hall, community center, firehouse and library)
  • Parking Deck Maintenance
  • Capital Equipment Replacement (sewer plant, swimming pool and emergency generator).

Banked noted that an example of a short-term fix was the “rental of a generator at $9,000 monthly versus the purchase of a new generator.” He stated that this was “balancing the budget the wrong way by not doing things that are essential.”

According to Banker, the purpose of redeveloping the business district is to increase the tax base by creating three, four-and five-story mixed-use (business and residential) buildings where one-or two-story buildings currently exist. Although there will be no PILOT programs, Banker stated that a five-year gradual tax phase in will be available. 

“Most of downtown is single-story and low-density,” said Banker. “The land has value, but the value is not maximized.”

He added that the plan would be to phase in the plan by developing empty areas first, relocating viable businesses to the newly renovated area and “play[ing] dominos to maintain as much activity during construction as possible.”

“By increasing the demand you will increase the value,” he said.

The residential component of the plan would allow for studio, one-and two-bedroom units to minimize the impact on the schools, according to Banker. 

The Caldwell-West Caldwell school district recently released a demographic study that projects student enrollment until the 2024-2025 school year; but the presentation did not include estimations for COAH obligations or redevelopment plans.

According to Banker, the Rutgers University formula used by demographers reflects that one school-age student will be produced for every 40 one-bedroom apartments.

Banker then addressed the rationale for the construction of a new parking garage, noting that the community already has a total of 1,242 parking spots available, which includes municipal lot spaces, Bloomfield Avenue parking meters, other meters, potential public acquisitions and spots that are accessory to specific uses.

A proposed five-story parking garage would accommodate 540 new spots, while a four-story lot would allow for 424 additional parking spots.

Banker noted that when fully functioning, the parking deck at the community center held a maximum of 200 spots, whereas there are currently only 120 parking spots available.

He also said that due to the “geometry of the site,” the intersection of Roseland and Bloomfield Avenues would not be conducive for a garage of this size with the current traffic configuration.

According to Banker, the overriding impetus to move the projects along is that the interest rates currently available are “the lowest in history for Caldwell at 1.6 percent.”

“This is a window we need to take advantage of,” said Banker.

With an estimated cost of approximately $15 million for the new garage, the annual debt payment on a bond with an interest rate at 2 percent would be approximately $670,000 versus a debt payment on a bond with an interest rate of 5 percent, where the annual payment would be approximately $977,000.

During Banker’s presentation, it was standing-room-only in council chambers with approximately 50 residents present for the discussion. Some of those in attendance spoke during public comment with suggestions, criticism and questions for the governing body regarding these redevelopment plans.

Resident Gary Condit commented that the construction “would be detrimental to the area businesses,” and Sue Ann Penna inquired about the impact to the taxpayers if the debt service from the parking garage were not totally encumbered by the user fees.

Louis Gallo advocated for “maintaining the historical charm and not destroying the character of Caldwell.”

Dr. Ben Jacobs questioned the borough’s entitlement to “eminent domain,” and Dr. Michael Kirsch spoke of the impact the construction process would have on his practice, referencing the potential difficulty of performing surgery while construction is occurring next to his medical office.

Linda Perry commented that she had heard “one mistake after another regarding basic contracts and maintenance not done,” adding that “Bloomfield Avenue was turned into a river due to poor drainage.” 

Debra Biscotti, a Personette Street resident who lives immediately next to the proposed garage, questioned how her privacy, quality of life and property values will be affected if the garage is erected.

One resident, retired professor David Cowell suggested another option altogether to accommodate both sides.

Cowell, who previously served on the planning and zoning boards in Caldwell, was supportive of redevelopment but offered consideration for a “modest proposal” of creating four parking garages that would each serve a two-block radius.

According to Cowell’s proposal, these lots would be two stories each with “footings and support for future grown as needed to three to four stories.” He suggested Cooks Lane, Smull Avenue, Foodtown (Gould Place to Lincoln to rear of dwelling on Brookside) and ACE/Shoprite Liquors as possible locations.

Under this proposal, Cowell also recommended that the second stories have solar panels, drainage to streams and storm sewers along with boxed plantings and trees.

“Downtown redevelopment is a complex task that requires a broad understanding of the whole process within the context of the community’s goal and self understanding of what it wants to be,” said Cowell. “It is also an interrelated process involving not just building facilities, for example, a parking garage or a bus stop, but rather a consideration of the permitted activities within the zoning, the delivery of the process to the whole of the development area, concerns for the residents within that zone and future residents, their concerns for the quality of the lives they will or are already living there, the environmental impacts and collateral benefits and costs.”

Mayor John Kelley announced that there are plans to hold a town hall meeting on the subject in March at the Caldwell Community Center to further the discussion with the community about the proposals.

The redevelopment presentation can be found in its entirety on the borough’s website.